Germany: Energy company RWE demolishes village Lützerath for coal mining despite opposition from residents and climate activists
The energy company RWE plans to evict the village of Lützerath in North Rhine-Westphalia for coal extraction in the Garzweiler II open pit mine.
For years, (former) residents of the village have been resisting the eviction via various initiatives such as the alliance "Alle Dörfer bleiben" (All Villages Remain). The members of the initiative "Menschenrecht vor Bergrecht" (Human Rights before Mining Rights) don't want to "continue to accept that our houses, our gardens and fertile farmland, our cultural monuments, in other words our entire past, is destroyed for climate-damaging lignite". The residents believe their forced resettlement, the demolition of their villages and the contribution to climate change that comes with burning coal are violations of human and constitutional rights, including threats to the human rights to life, to food, and to health of millions of people. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, the UN Guiding Principles oblige companies like RWE to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and support (legal) measures to effectively combat climate change, rather than fight it. The constitutional complaint filed by the initiative "Human Rights before Mining Rights" against the coal law was not accepted by the Federal Constitutional Court.
In the summer of 2022, the German parliament voted in favour of preserving the village. In October 2022, the Federal Government, the state government and RWE announced that the coal phase-out in North Rhine-Westphalia would be brought forward to 2030, but that Lützerath would be demolished in return – a decision that, according to the German Institute for Economic Research will most likely not save any CO2, and was therefore opposed by climate and human rights activists. They occupied the houses of the village and built a protest camp with about 30 tree houses.
RWE commented on the criticism in a press release issued on 11 January.: "However, the coal under the former settlement of Lützerath, which is located close to the current edge of the Garzweiler opencast mine, is needed to make optimal use of the lignite fleet during the energy crisis and thus save gas in electricity generation for Germany. At the same time, sufficient volumes of material are needed for high-quality recultivation of former opencast mines. [...]"
Ahead of the eviction in January, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited demolition company LÜCKER to respond to a press release by Parents for Future calling on the company to halt all work in Lützerath. The company did not respond to our request.
Despite a demonstration with 35,000 participants the eviction took place in mid-January 2023; police violence against peaceful demonstrators was widely reported. Several protesters, including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, remained at the site staging a sit-in near the edge of the mine into Tuesday. She was among a group of activists detained by police to carry out identity checks. They were released shortly after. The close cooperation between the police and RWE during the eviction and the demonstrations, for example the provision of prisoner transport vehicles by RWE and the handover of valuables such as laptops and smartphones from the police to RWE, was subject to public criticism.
In March 2023, the human rights organisation "Komitee für Grundrechte und Demokratie" ["Committee for Fundamental Rights and Democracy"] published a report on their demonstration monitoring and claimed that fundamental rights, including the fundamental right to freedom of assembly and the fundamental right to freedom of expression, were violated during the evacuation of Lützerath. We contacted RWE Power AG and asked for a statement on the following allegations:
- It is alleged that there was close cooperation between RWE and the police. The authors report that the police used RWE's equipment to carry out the evictions and to transport the prisoners, and that they made their way to the village via the open-cast mine.
- The police and RWE are said to have systematically obstructed reporting in and around Lützerath, and there were allegedly physical assaults against journalists.
- The police and RWE are alleged to have proceeded in a hectic manner during the eviction and thus endangered human lives. The accusations against RWE include cutting down trees on the road to the vigil with harvesters while people were still with their harnesses in traverses.
- The police allegedly used "brutal force" in defending the RWE site.
- The demo medics report that their medical work was obstructed by RWE.
In its response, RWE Power AG referred to its German press release of 14 January 2023: "Freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate are among the most important fundamental rights in our constitutional state. RWE respects all criticism that is expressed peacefully and within the framework of the law. However, in the context of today's demonstration, there was a call to gain access, even by force if necessary, to the former Lützerath settlement, which is currently fenced off. The company is appalled by the aggression and violence that emanated from parts of the activists. This no longer has anything to do with the otherwise peaceful demonstration. [...]" [translated by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre]